"Maybe, but probably not." Is my brother's response to my question if our mom will attend my grouping ceremony tonight. His ceremony was two years ago, he doesn't talk much about it, and no one underage can attend; so I have no idea what to expect. My brother and I eat breakfast together every morning, my father is rarely at home long enough to spend a meal together; and I think the last time I had a meal with my mother must have been years ago.
My trainer, Alexi should be here soon for one last training session before I am assigned. We are members of the jumalat, semi-immortals who determine how and when humans die. We will never die of old age or illness, but we may die other ways. We age up normally, but when we should die, we return to age nineteen. Once a jumalat is done following their trainer, they are assigned to one of the three groups, the kappajat, scoinen, and daata. Alexi is in the biggest group, the daata; they do the ordinary non-specialized jobs. They are nannies, teachers, garbage collectors, and are those who assign trainers and administer some tests. Alexi became my trainer three years ago when I was sixteen; every young jumal is assigned a trainer on their sixteenth birthday. The second group is the scoinen; they decide which humans will die, and the jumal that will kill them.
My brother wishes me luck, and tells me that even if our mother doesn't come, he'll be there. Then he gets up to leave for his free hours since it is rest day. I go to my room and get dressed in my training clothes. My clothes are dark green and black, symbolizing my age group - and our last year of training before being assigned. I have a tight sleeveless shirt, and long black shorts. I look at myself in the mirror as I pull my long black hair into a tight ponytail. I am tall, have a slender figure, and high cheekbones. Purple eyes are a signature of our kind, but mine are not the usual deep color that looks almost blue, but a bright metallic violet.
The doorbell rings, and I glance at the window simulator before I rush to get to Alexi. I hope to be assigned to part of the kappajat. It is the most elite group. Members of that group live among the humans and are given assignments to kill. If I am assigned to that group, it will not only bring honor to my family, but allow me to see what it is like to be outside too. We live indoors, I don't know where we live in relation to humans, and I am not allowed such intimate information. I have only seen photos of the outdoors, and our window simulations. Our entire society is contained and connected in one giant building of tunnels.
I open the door and deflect Alexi's punch that would have hit me in the face. I smile as a reply to this greeting of his; he always says it is best to be prepared for anything. Alexi looks remarkably like my brother, platinum blond hair, a wide strong jaw and he is quite a few inches shorter than me. In looks there is one extreme or the other, no in between for us.
Tonight at midnight I will have my test and get my powers, so this is the last chance to train. "We are headed to the training center today," Alexi says to me as we walk along the long tunnels "no surprises today, just the basics." We take a left at an intersection and head down a tunnel I know well. Brightly lit there are dark green walls that look black if you don't look closely enough, and a cement floor with window simulators every so often.
The training center is deserted; no one does their training on rest days. I have received special permission to ready myself since my test is tonight. There is a pool on one side, and a track that runs around it. There are weights for us to use also, there is no specialized equipment because the jumalat who use this room have yet to gain their powers. The walls are the same deep green as the tunnel that led us here, marking that this is for my age group. The floor is made of a rubbery material that bounces slightly when you run on it.
Alexi starts up the runner, a small device that chases me around the track, and sometimes into the pool - meant for motivation, but is mostly annoying. I get a ten second head start then he drops it onto the track. It is small round metallic ball with six pins that stick down like legs. I have only been caught by it twice when I first started training. When it catches you one of the pins extends and stabs at the ankle and sends a horrible shock that lasts for hours. Twice was more than enough for me.
We do the usual training nine hours I run as fast as I can for as long as I can with the runner on my heels the whole time. We skip water training to spend some extra time with the weights. Alexis tells me he wants to give me some time to rest before tonight, so he ends the session a bit early.
"That was amazing; you have a good chance at being a kappajat." He says to me with a grin.
"Hmph I'll be lucky to be a scoinen." I say, he knows as well as I do that the last jumal to be assigned as a kappajat was three years ago. The last scoinen assigned was a few months ago. Alexi just smiles and tells me to enjoy my free time until he collects me for the ceremony.
My days have been so occupied with training as my grouping ceremony comes closer that I am elated to have a few hours to myself. I run through the tunnels barreling towards the games room, which is where my friends are sure to be. I stop running right before I crash into the door. Inside is nearly everyone from my age group and many from the other groups. Everything in the large room is white. The tables for games are always occupied, while the human games usually remain empty. Today is an exception as I glance around every table is completely full. The room is so loud no one notices my entrance.
I stand in the doorway looking for my friends when I hear a voice louder than the rest. I immediately know it is Kamaria and she's spotted me. "Tarika! Woot Woot last day of training!" Everything she says is almost always a shout. That's just her personality, she finds excitement in everything. The entire room goes quiet for a moment and glance my direction. Only Kamaria could cause a complete stop of the games. My face grows hot under the room's gaze, even though they turn away after a moment. I smile as Kamaria stops the game she was playing and rushes over to me.
She has always been vibrant. Everyone knows her, and she's friends with everyone. It only takes her threes strides to cross the room and envelope me in a hug. She is even taller than me and has dark skin for a jumal. She even looks as dark as some of the humans we have pictures of. Her hair is straight and chopped short so it barely reaches her chin. It is black like mine but with bright light blue tips. She tried to convince me to dye it with her, but I'm not as brave as her.
She steps back from me and motions for me to spin. I sigh but smile to myself, classic Kamaria. She calls the attention of the entire room without notice, she would never try to be the center of attention on purpose, but she always is. She is almost guaranteed a spot in the scoinen when she turns nineteen next month. As I turn she says, "Do you feel different, you look powerful." I laugh and stop turning in time to see her smirk at her own joke.
I follow her back to the table where some of our other friends sit. They all welcome me and ask how my training went. I spend a few hours there playing and watching. Then the dinner bell goes off. While we are able to eat our breakfast in our own houses we must eat dinner collectively in the cafeteria on rest days. As a group everyone in the room gets out and goes single file through the door. Our line is joined by others from the rest of the tunnels.
We all get our food and sit at our assigned tables waiting for our president to read us the pledge. President Bianca stands and begins the pledge while we all join in.
We, the jumalat will stand for justice when there is none
We promise to selflessly control the population of the humans for now and as long as it is in our power
Stand united we will, jumalat for now and forever
Kamaria always seems bored during the pledge, but it fills me with a sense of pride and purpose. We all sit and are now allowed to begin eating. Dinner tonight is the same as it always is on rest days, cooked corn, potatoes, and beef; Nothing colorful or tasteful. Table assignments change every once in a while, that's how I became close friends with Kamaria for the past year she's been assigned to the seat next to me. My best friend, Akiiki has been assigned next to me my whole life. I don't know if they assigned him next to me because we were friends, or if we are friends because of where we were assigned.
Now that we are seated conversations begin, and the dining hall is filled with a pleasant hum. Akiiki turns to me and smiles; he seems very average looking at first glance, but his smile transforms his face. He is very tall, quite a bit taller than most, and he has a stocky lengthy build. He has short spikey black hair and his purple eyes almost look blue. He was assigned almost a year ago to the daata. My entire family is made up of scoinen, which is very rare; I don't care about what status he is, but my family, mostly my parents, told me that I should no longer associate with him. I finally convinced my father that I should at least be allowed to be friends with him until I am assigned because who knows what group I'll be assigned to. That got him going, he ranted on and on about how it would shame our entire family, and he basically told me I would be disowned in not so many words - no pressure.
After we are sorted we get a few years to stay with our parents before we have to move out. That's why my brother still lives with us, he always says it's because he's too lazy to move out, but that doesn't fool me. No one would ever want to stay in my house one moment longer than they had to, the only reason he stays is because of me. As soon as I am sorted I am moving out, and I am sure my brother will be quick to follow. I plan on being friends with Akiiki no matter what group we belong to, and after tonight my parents can no longer dictate my life.
It is funny how different my two closest friends are. Akiiki is very quiet and reserved until you get to know him. He gets this inquisitive look about him all the time and you know that he is deep in thought. And Kamaria is Kamaria - Crazy, wild, and a whirlwind of a person to be around.
Akiiki asks me how my training went and when I tell him what Alexi said afterwards he gets that look about him. Kamaria and I sit waiting for him to tell us what he is thinking, I can usually wait as long as he is thinking, but Kamaria loses her patience quickly.
"Akiikiiii" she drags out his name whenever he takes what she thinks is too long. "Come on, what are you thinking?"
"Well I was just thinking about when my sister was sorted." His sister was sorted into the kappajat a few years ago. The next jumal to be sorted into the kappajat will most likely have her as a guide into the transition of living with humans. I didn't know her that well; she was much too old to ever be caught dead hanging out with us. I remember finding her strikingly beautiful and wishing I could look like her when we were younger. She was, or is I suppose, tall, lean with intense eyes, and platinum blonde hair that's so long it reaches her hips.
After being sorted into the kappajat you are basically banished from the rest of the jumalat except for the ones who live with the humans. No one has seen or heard from Akiiki's sister, Adriana except for her the scoinen who gives her assignments. Akiiki doesn't talk about her much; I think he misses her a lot. If she wishes, after each lifetime she may return here for a couple of years before going back - almost none of the kappajat choose this though.
"Yes. What about her sorting?" Kamaria asks him.
"Well it's just, she left directly after being sorted and only people who were watching the ceremony could say goodbye…" This look of despair crosses his face for a moment before he regains his composure. Since he and his brother were too young at the time, they couldn't attend the ceremony or say bye. "What if you become a kappajat? We won't ever see you."
"Are you seriously asking me that?" Since when does everyone think I have the potential to be a kappajat? "You know the odds of me being ch-"
"No Tarika, he's right, the odds are completely in your favor. It has been way longer than usual since the last person was sorted into the kappajat. Someone should have been chosen months ago." Kamaria almost sounds angry with me that I would think lowly of myself. But it's just that if I get my hopes up, and don't do well tonight, I don't know how I could stand it.
"I guess now is as good a time as any to tell you guys what I was already planning." Kamaria brings her voice down to a whisper so Akiiki and I lean in. "Tonight I am going to sneak in to watch your ceremony."
I almost choke on the helping of potatoes I just shoved in my mouth. Kamaria smiles as she watches the shock wash over our faces. No one ever sneaks anywhere period. "What? How?" I say at the same time Akiiki says "Impossible." Kamaria laughs and looks on both sides of her for eavesdroppers before leaning in.
"Okay you know how there are the two tunnels leading to the sorting chamber?" She asks. Akiiki and I nod, everyone knows this much; one tunnel for the young jumal to enter, the other for the observers. If a certain young jumal seems particularly promising, then they are more likely to have a bigger crowd.
"That's true, there are only those two tunnels, but they aren't the only ways in." She waits a moment watching us waiting for it to sink in. How could there be more ways in? There is no way, we were told that there are two ways - why would that be a lie - President Bianca would never lie. "There is a small room, a control box on the left of the dome where the sorting takes place. The jumalat who control what tests are administered have to get in too. There is a small secret passageway that leads from the purple level training room into the control box."
"But that still doesn't answer how you get in to watch. You can't just go waltzing in past all those scoinen." Akiiki points out.
"Let me finish. No one will be in the secret passageway right before the ceremony starts, everyone will be watching. So I'll pretend to be looking for my brothers." Her twin brothers just turned sixteen and are at the first level, the purple level. "Then I'll open the secret door, which is behind one of weight machines. The passageway isn't that long, but at the end just before the control box it splits in two. I'll take the right one, and it should lead me to one of the stalls in the bathroom right next to the bleachers. Then I'll just slip into the crowd like no big deal." She leans back with a smug smile, as if we couldn't possibly find any faults with her plan.
"How do you know all this?" I ask her, I can't tell if I am more shocked, or awed by this elaborate plan that is most definitely illegal. I can tell from one glance at Akiiki that he disapproves wholeheartedly of Kamaria's plan. He will keep his mouth shut though I am sure, he might not agree, but he knows that no amount of persuasion can stop her when she gets that determined look on her face.
"Well for the past couple of months I have been thinking about how I won't be able to watch you be sorted, and that's not fair. So I decided that I would find my own way in. So I found out which scoinen would administer the test a couple jumalat ago. I followed him around that entire day, stealthily of course, and saw him use the passage. I didn't go into the passage after him though. I waited until it was quiet hours a few days later, that way no one would be there. Then I snuck into the passage and figured out where it led. It wasn't even that hard" She grins at her own cunning.
"Wow. All this just to watch me be sorted? Are you so curious that you can't wait until your own sorting?" I tease her letting a mischievous look cross my face for a moment.
"Well in the amount of time it has been since the last jumal was sorted into the kappajat at least one jumal should have become kappajat. So it is about time someone becomes one, and I just have this feeling that it will be you." I can tell by the look on her face that she truly believes what she is saying.
I look at Akiiki to see what he thinks, and he has that inquisitive look about him again. Then he looks up at me and smiles sadly at me, "I think she's right. This is probably going to be our last dinner together."
I am so exasperated with the both of them, all melodramatic like I am already leaving when I haven't even been sorted yet. The bell signifying the end of dinner rings and most jumalat get up to leave. If you want to, you are allowed to stay longer after dinner until quiet hours, which is what we usually do. Since there is a sorting today, my sorting, quiet hours are postponed until the end of my ceremony - however long that will be.
Out of the corner of my eye I see my brother walking over towards me. He stops about a foot away from our table. "Tarika, you should go back home and rest until it is time. You will need it." He says this with such a solemn look that I wonder if my ceremony will be harder than I think.
"Um, okay." I say with a quick glance at my friends, Kamaria seems as surprised as I am, but Akiiki just nods.
He reaches a hand out to help me up and says, "I'll escort you back."
I really don't have much of a choice here, when someone elder than you tells you what to do, you do it no questions asked. I get up and say goodbye to Kamaria and Akiiki, who wish me luck. I follow my brother silently through the tunnels wondering what he is thinking, but knowing better than to ask.
Finally as we are almost at our house he speaks up. "Tarika," he clears his throat and tries again. "Tarika, I shouldn't be telling you this, but what you are about to face is something that your training can't prepare you for." He's right; he shouldn't be telling me this. He is forbidden to tell anyone under nineteen what they should expect for their sorting, but he continues anyway. "I will be watching, but I won't be able to help you. Just stay on your toes, and remember everything Alexi has taught you. Oh, and tell Kamaria that her idea is too risky."
I look at him clearly shocked, and he explains. "I don't know what she is planning, but I could tell by the look on her face. I know there is also no way that she would have just said goodbye like that if it would be the last time you would see her."
I shake my head, why does everyone think that I am going to be a kappajat today. It isn't reassuring at all, it's mostly nerve racking. "I didn't know how insightful you are." I joke, but then more sincerely say, "Thanks, I know what you are risking telling me this."
We've reached our door at this point and surprisingly he tells me he has something to attend to, and that I should go inside and rest until Alexi gets here. I thank him again and go into my room. I lay down on my bed, not even intending to sleep, but next thing I know Alexi is knocking on my door. Ready or not, it's time.